Asia closer to practical mobile Web

A new generation of WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) services running over GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) networks will debut in the Asia-Pacific region by the end of the year, according to Bertrand Bidaud, a telecommunications analyst at Gartner Inc., in Singapore.

GPRS brings the packet-switched, always-on mode which is crucial to the success of mobile data services, and helped to make NTT DoCoMo Inc.'s I-mode service so popular in Japan. Second, WAP and I-mode will converge as dual implementations of compact HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), Bidaud said. These two advances will drive the rapid adoption of mobile Internet access outside Japan, according to Bidaud.

"Users will start to move to the new (GPRS) adoption curve quickly," he said. " SMS (short messaging service) will be challenged in Asia by GPRS by year-end."

By the end of 2002, 25 percent of mobile subscribers in Singapore will be using GPRS, as the market here is well-suited to rapid evolution. In the rest of Asia-Pacific, SMS will remain popular next year for the bulk of users, while GPRS will make inroads at the high end of the market, according to Bidaud. This year, SMS proved a spectacular success in Asia-Pacific, while WAP has been a flop.

"In the Philippines, users send 10 SMS messages for every call they make," he said. "WAP was supposed to boost the (handset) replacement market in Asia but made no impact."

Telecommunication operators were partly responsible for the failure of WAP by adopting a domineering attitude towards content providers, according to Bidaud.

"Too many GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) WAP operators took a big brother approach to content providers, who therefore couldn't make a business case," he said here Friday at the Gartner Summit.

The operators want to own all levels of the mobile communications value chain -- transport, transaction and billing, content and customization, according to Bidaud. While this may work during the early stages of the wireless data era, it is not a sustainable model in the long term, Bidaud said.

"Time and again, vertical integration has been shown to fail, because one of the levels turns out to be inefficient," he said.

The uptake of GPRS is important for handset manufacturers as it will provide a strong incentive for users to buy replacement handsets, according to Bidaud.

"There is a lot at stake here for handset manufacturers," he said. "They have got to have GPRS, or they'll be issuing profit warning after profit warning."